Author ORCID Identifier

https://orcid.org/0000-0002-9724-5367

Year of Publication

2017

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

Anthropology

First Advisor

Dr. Deborah L. Crooks

Abstract

Increasing rates of overweight, obesity, and related cardiovascular diseases among older adults in the United States present unique public health challenges. Cross-cultural research has shown marked variation in health across the world’s elder populations because aging is a biological process rooted in sociocultural context. The sociocultural environment contributes to complex negotiations of food and physical activity patterns for older adults. It is well established in the literature that urban residents report low levels of physical activity and have easy access to fast food outlets, which tend to be concentrated in lower-income neighborhoods. I utilize a biocultural framework, integrating nutritional anthropology with healthy aging perspectives to recognize the role of the social determinants of health throughout the lifespan. This anthropological study integrates qualitative and quantitative methods to answer the following research question: What is the relationship between the sociocultural factors that shape diet, physical activity, and nutritional status among Alaskan elders in Anchorage? The results indicate that diet and physical activity practices in this sample do not meet national recommendations and that diet differs adversely from national reference samples. Statistical analyses indicate that the media and friends positively influenced older adults to increase their energy expenditure. Family influences increased fruit consumption, while participation in cultural and social events increased intake of fats and sweets. Cultural identity was an important factor for Alaska Native participants’ dietary selections. Social supports increased access to healthy foods and safe physical activities. This research suggests that trying to reach older adults with diverse needs through a variety of channels, including the media, social networks, and social events, can help alleviate some of the barriers to healthy diet and exercise patterns. These data indicate a need for culturally-responsive programs that maintain relationships with family members and make connections between elders with similar healthy aging goals in order to improve diet and physical activity practices.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

https://doi.org/10.13023/ETD.2017.221

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